San Jose residents in fence fight with housing developer
Several homeowners—including Alina Ocher and Kevin and Ji Rieden—say that PulteGroup is not communicating with neighbors while building a new development at the site of the former Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park in San Jose. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

    There’s an old saying that good fences make good neighbors, but tensions between nearly a dozen San Jose homeowners and a home construction developer over fence heights have deepened an already strained relationship.

    Several homeowners living near the redevelopment of the former 15.7-acre Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park in West San Jose are angry because the builder, PulteGroup, has been disruptive and hasn’t responded to inquiries. The development, part of the Santana Row-Valley Fair Urban Village Plan at 500 Charles Cali Drive, is just south of the Winchester Mystery House.

    Residents said the builder has caused a complete upheaval in the neighborhood since work started last year. Their most urgent issue is the height of the fence that will be built between their homes and the massive development. The development was approved for six-foot fences and the residents want PulteGroup to construct eight-foot fences.

    This urban village project, estimated to be completed in 2024, will include 687 homes—a mix of apartments, condominiums and houses—and a two-acre park with a section carved out for a dog park, according to city documents. It’s part of the city’s general plan that will create areas near transit, that are walkable, bicycle-friendly and include residential and job-based developments.

    “We’ve been trying to get anybody to help us,” Ji Rieden, whose home is directly next to the project, told San José Spotlight. “It’s been a nightmare.”

    Construction has caused numerous disruptions, the Riedens said, but the taller fence is their primary concern, seeing it as a way to ease frustration over the ongoing construction. PulteGroup has so far refused, Kevin Rieden said.

    Representatives at PulteGroup did not respond to a request for comment.

    Cheryl Wessling, spokesperson for the San Jose planning, building and code enforcement department, said the fence issue is out of the city’s hands. The San Jose City Council approved the construction of a six-foot fence in early 2020. PulteGroup is not obligated to build a fence any higher despite concerns that it will not be high enough, she said.

    But the height of the fence is not the only issue riling neighbors. Compounding the already tense situation, Kevin Rieden said PulteGroup has also done construction on four Saturdays, without city approval. The company confirmed this in text messages to him, he said.

    Although the new project is literally in their backyards, Kevin Rieden said he is not a NIMBY. Rieden said he supports the new development, but as a neighbor and a construction professional, he doesn’t agree with how PulteGroup has conducted business. He and the other homeowners said they are tired of the city’s lack of response.

    “If they’ve done what they’ve done here in the city of San Jose, working four Saturdays without approval, the first one would be a warning, second one would be a fine, third one would be a suspension of inspections and the fourth one would be your permit being pulled,” he said. “I think the way that San Jose works is: if no one complains, it didn’t happen.”

    Wessling confirmed PulteGroup is only authorized to work on weekdays, and she said the city will be issuing a citation.

    “Our code enforcement staff have responded in a timely manner to the residents’ concerns, have and will continue to explain what is doable, and will compel compliance on current violations that they can observe and or verify,” Wessling told San José Spotlight.

    A view of the second phase of development for the new homes being built by PulteGroup, which abuts several single-family homes on its western side. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

    Beyond the unauthorized work and noise disruptions, PulteGroup has given homeowners conflicting reports of how much the new development will ultimately shrink their properties, the Riedens said. PulteGroup first told the Riedens’ neighbor, Alina Ocher, that the company would move the fence between the two properties two feet farther into Ocher’s backyard. However, they recently revised that estimate down to six inches. Ocher isn’t confident the boundaries won’t change again, she said.

    “What they should have done is surveyed our homes before they started construction,” Ocher told San José Spotlight. “They’re not being good neighbors.”

    Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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